Ability, Modality, and Genericity. Philosophical Studies 175: 411-428 (2018). (Philpapers)
Accounts of ability in the philosophical literature have tended to be modal ones: claims about an agent’s abilities are understood in terms of what she does in certain non-actual scenarios. In contrast, a prominent account of ability ascriptions in the recent semantics literature appeals to genericity: claims about an agent’s abilities are understood in terms of what she generally manages to do. The latter account resolves some long-standing problems for modal accounts, but encounters problems of its own. I propose a hybrid view, on which ability involves both a modal and a generic element.
Modal Predicates. Linguistics and Philosophy 39: 443-457 (2016). (Philpapers)
I propose a semantics for a class of English predicates characteristically associated with possibility. The central idea is that such predicates are typically associated with an ordering source, and that differences among them are due to differences in their ordering sources. The ‘dispositional predicates’ that have been central to philosophical discussions are shown to be derivable as a special case from this more general class.
Dispositions and Ergativity. The Philosophical Quarterly 65: 381-395 (2015). (Philpapers)
Attempts to give necessary and sufficient conditions for demarcating ‘dispositional’ predicates (such as ‘is fragile’) from other predicates are generally acknowledged to fail. This leaves unresolved the question of what it is about paradigm instances of dispositional predicates in virtue of which their application to an object constitutes a disposition ascription. This essay proposes that dispositional predicates are generally derived from ergative verbs, those verbs that allow for certain entailments from transitive to intransitive forms (as ‘Sam broke the glass’ entails ‘The glass broke’). The connection between disposition ascriptions and ergativity is shown to have consequences for the metaphysics of dispositions.
The Agentive Modalities. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 90: 113-134 (2015). (Philpapers).
A number of philosophical projects require a proper understanding of the modal aspects of agency, or of what I call ‘the agentive modalities.’ I propose a general account of the agentive modalities, one which takes as its primitive the decision-theoretic notion of an option. I relate this account to the standard semantics for ‘can’ and to the viability of some positions in the free will debates.
The Argument from Moral Responsibility. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92: 249-267 (2014). (Philpapers)
There is a familiar argument for the falsity of determinism, an argument that proceeds from the claim that agents are morally responsible. A number of authors have challenged the soundness of this argument. I pose a different challenge, one that grants its soundness. The challenge is that, given certain plausible assumptions, one cannot know the conclusion of this argument on the basis of knowing its premises. That is, one cannot know that determinism is false on the basis of this argument even if agents are in fact morally responsible and moral responsibility is in fact incompatible with determinism. A slightly different version of the challenge tells also against the claim that one can be justified in believing that determinism is false on the basis of the argument, so that the challenge cannot be evaded by a retreat to an epistemic position weaker than knowledge. I compare my challenge to the challenge posed by the external world sceptic, and argue that there are asymmetries between these challenges that make it reasonable to accept the former and reject the latter. I close by considering the prospects for developing an epistemology of moral responsibility that is adequate to answer the challenge.
Abilities. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Review of Jenann Ismael, How Physics Makes Us Free. Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
Review of Bence Nanay (ed.), Perceiving the World. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
Review of Richard Holton, Willing, Wanting, Waiting. Australasian Journal of Philosophy.